Michael P. Eriksen (left), dean of the Georgia State University School of Public Health, and Gary Nelson, president of Healthcare Georgia Foundation

Better Health for All: The Kreuter-Katz Health Equity Lecture

His half-century of experience as a public health educator and researcher notwithstanding, Marshall Kreuter has never been content to confine himself to a classroom or lab. As a professor at Georgia State, Kreuter used his first grant from the National Institutes of Health to venture into the Summerhill and Peoplestown neighborhoods near Turner Field and find ways to improve the health of a struggling community.

“Marshall went out and established a relationship with the community, and as a result of that there was a true partnership between the community and the university,” says Michael P. Eriksen, dean of Georgia State’s School of Public Health. “It takes a remarkable, rare person to do something like that, and it all really came from Marshall’s effort and engagement. That’s what he does. He lives it.”

Together, Kreuter and his wife, Martha Katz, the former deputy director for policy and legislation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have made an incalculable impact on the health of underserved populations in Georgia and across the country. Thanks to a $60,000 grant from Healthcare Georgia Foundation, Georgia State is honoring their legacy by establishing the Kreuter-Katz Health Equity Lecture, designed to spread knowledge about health disparities in American society — and foster solutions.

Bringing Equality to Public Health

Gary Nelson, Healthcare Georgia Foundation’s president, experienced Kreuter’s wisdom and dedication firsthand as one of his students at the University of Utah in the 1970s. “I thought of it as immersion learning,” Nelson remembers. “He’d put students on the streets as if they were homeless or in a detention facility or in a food-stamp line so we could really see what all that meant.”

Since its formation in the late 1990s as a result of the conversion of BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia to a for-profit organization, Healthcare Georgia Foundation has placed a high priority on studying and resolving health disparities among the state’s residents. That’s also been a priority of the Georgia State School of Public Health — and never more so than today, as the former public heath program transitions into an independent school within the university. The school’s Center of Excellence on Health Disparities, funded by the NIH, hosted its first Urban Health Disparities Summit in April of 2013, bringing together more than 300 researchers, clinicians, students and policymakers.

“Georgia State has an outstanding record of service, but we need to go beyond service into research and evidence-based investigation,” Eriksen says. The Kreuter-Katz lecture series “is a good example of that being put into practice.”

Nelson, who currently serves on the board of advisors for the School of Public Health, agrees. “The compelling argument I made to my board is that the School of Public Health is bringing science to the problem of disparities in health equity,” he explains. “It’s not just a charitable problem, it’s an issue of science.” He hopes the lecture series will not only advance knowledge-sharing among researchers but also capture students’ interest and get them involved. “One of the things we’re trying to do at Healthcare Georgia is have an effect upon the emerging health workforce to inspire a new breed of leadership out there,” Nelson says. “And that’s one of the things I think the lectureship will do.”

Honoring Two Public Health Crusaders

With that in mind, it’s fitting that the lecture series should honor Marshall Kreuter, who’s done so much to mentor and inspire new generations of public-health leaders. In addition to his years as a professor, he’s written several textbooks and consulted with the CDC and other government agencies. “He’s an advisor, he’s on our board, he gives guest lectures,” Erikson says. “He’s just a very engaged guy.”

Martha Katz, meanwhile, is “a trusted advisor the directors of the CDC have always relied upon. . . . She’s a total strategic policy person, someone who knows what’s current with policy and can make a difference in that environment.”

“They’re very different in terms of their personalities and their focus, but they complement each other well — they’re both equally committed to issues of social justice,” Nelson says. “And they’re both so humble. It’s ironic, but fitting, that we’re giving them the spotlight, because they would never seek it for themselves.

“But we want to pay tribute to two individuals who have made a huge difference nationally as well as in the state as far as health promotion and disease prevention. It’s the right time, the right place and the right way of acknowledging their contributions.”

The Kreuter-Katz Lecture Series is currently in its planning stages, with the first event slated to coincide with the next Urban Health Disparities Summit at Georgia State in spring 2014. The grant from Healthcare Georgia Foundation will fund the lecture series for three years, but the School of Public Health is already hard at work raising money toward an endowment that will support the series in perpetuity.

“It’s our hope that this will be an annual lecture series on health equity and a signature event for the school,” Erikson says. “It’d be our first endowed lectureship, and it’ll help bring even more attention to what we’re doing.”